NIGMS Feedback Loop
I recently sat down with NIGMS-funded early career scientist Namandjé Bumpus to talk about her research and career path. Questions came from undergraduates across the country, including Thorne Varier in the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I invite you to watch the archived videocast and share it with students and postdocs in your labs and departments.
The Q&A was part of the Second Annual Early Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students. We launched the lecture series last year to highlight the achievements of our early career grantees and encourage students to pursue biomedical research careers.
Namandjé, an associate professor in the department of medicine, division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, started with a scientific presentation that walked us through her research investigating the mechanisms involved in HIV drug activation and metabolism. She also described an exciting new project that involves genotyping people to identify genetic variations that may also influence these processes. Then, during our conversation, she talked about when she knew she wanted to be a scientist (a professional society played a major role), how mentors have supported her along the way, what she would have done differently and why basic research is so important for medical advances. Some other highlights from the lecture are on Twitter (#ecilecture).
Much of what Namandjé shared relates to scientists at any career stage. I hope you and your trainees find the lecture as inspiring as I did.During the 2017 NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture, Namandjé Bumpus discussed her research on drug metabolism (left), answered questions about her career path (middle) and met with undergraduate students (right).
Credit: Christa Reynolds and Emily Carlson, NIGMS.
One question that has been asked about the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators is how awardees will be affected by the fact that they cannot have additional NIGMS research grants. In response to this question, we reviewed the research project grant (RPG) funding history of all 707 Principal Investigators (PIs) who received an NIGMS R01 as an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) between Fiscal Years 2009 and 2015. The PIs were grouped by Year of PI, which ranges from Year 1 to Year 5 (five years is the typical length of an ESI R01 award). Year 1 is the year in which the PI was awarded his or her initial R01, and Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. The awards and funding history of each PI were confined to Fiscal Years 2009-2015; thus, all PIs are included in the Year 1 group, while those who received their initial R01 in 2013, for example, would only appear in the Year 1-Year 3 groups.
The distribution of NIGMS awards (including subprojects) for these PIs is depicted below.
View larger image Figure 1. Percentage of Principal Investigators by Number of Active NIGMS Awards. Year 1 represents the year of the initial NIGMS R01; Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. Only Fiscal Years 2009-2015 are included. No PIs had more than three active NIGMS awards in a single year.
Adding up the percentages of PIs with two and three awards, Figure 1 shows that the percentage of PIs with more than one active NIGMS award ranges from 2.8% in Year 1 to 13.9% in Year 5.
The NIGMS funding distribution of these PIs is depicted below; it includes administrative supplements. Figure 2 also shows the 2016 ESI MIRA funding distribution for comparison.
View larger image Figure 2. Percentage of Principal Investigators by NIGMS Funding. Year 1 represents the year of the initial NIGMS R01; Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. Only Fiscal Years 2009-2015 are included. 2016 ESI MIRA represents the NIGMS funding of PIs who received an NIGMS ESI MIRA in 2016.
Figure 2 shows that the percentage of PIs with more than $250,000 in NIGMS funding ranges from 8.9% in Year 1 to 18.2% in Year 5. Figure 2 also shows that 2016 ESI MIRA recipients (who all received $250,000 or less in NIGMS funding) had a much higher probability of receiving between $200,000 and $250,000 in NIGMS funding than non-MIRA PIs who received $250,000 or less in NIGMS funding.
Combining the data used to generate the previous two figures reveals that the percentage of PIs with both one or fewer active NIGMS awards and $250,000 or less in NIGMS funding ranges from 91.1% in Year 1 to 81.9% in Year 5. The data also show that 77% of the PIs had one or fewer active NIGMS awards and $250,000 or less in NIGMS funding in all years.
Taken together, the above data imply that the majority of NIGMS ESI awardees will not be negatively affected by the ESI MIRA requirement of having only one NIGMS grant for a maximum of $250,000 in direct costs per year. Furthermore, a majority of ESIs may actually benefit from the high probability of receiving between $200,000 and $250,000 in NIGMS funding as an ESI MIRA recipient (in fact, 50% of 2016 ESI MIRA recipients received the maximum amount). We also hope that ESIs will benefit from the enhanced research flexibility of the MIRA program, as well as the planned increase in funding stability. We will continue to monitor the progress of the ESI MIRA program carefully to ensure that it is meeting the program’s objectives and enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the biomedical research enterprise.
Trying to navigate changes in NIH grant application policy can be a daunting task. Moreover, when these policy changes bypass the radar of applicants, the result can be an unwelcome outcome. This was the case most recently for many grant applicants who did not follow the new NIH policy limiting the types of appendix materials allowed for applications with due dates on or after January 25, 2017. This policy was first advertised last August to allow sufficient time for applicants to absorb the change. Unfortunately, many of the grant applications assigned to NIGMS came in for the January 25 receipt date with non-compliant appendix materials, resulting in their withdrawal by NIH. We at NIGMS are very aware of the pain and frustration felt by applicants and institutional authorized officials when applications are withdrawn. In the hope of minimizing the number of withdrawals due to non-compliant appendices for upcoming receipt dates, here are some important reminders:
- Under the new policy, almost nothing is allowed as appendix material unless specifically requested in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA).
- The few remaining materials that are still allowed are very specialized and do not apply to most FOAs.
- If the FOA you apply for is one that does allow or specifically requests certain types of appendix materials, be sure to include only what is allowed. If you include any additional materials, your application will be considered non-compliant and will almost certainly be withdrawn.
- Do not use application sections that have unrestricted page limits (e.g., the Other Attachments section) as a surrogate location for appendix materials that are no longer allowed because this also will result in your application being withdrawn as non-compliant.
- Lastly, be sure you are reading the most up-to-date versions of the FOA and SF424 instructions, as the materials that are and are not allowed in an application may have changed from previous versions.
One of the best resources to help you stay on top of new and upcoming changes is the Notices of NIH Policy Changes on the Office of Extramural Research website—please check this site frequently. And, as always, NIGMS program and review staff are available to answer any questions.
Webinar for Students and Fellows Interested in NIGMS’ Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) Program
We’re hosting a webinar for potential applicants to the PRAT Program on Tuesday, March 28, from 12:00-1:30 p.m. EDT. PRAT is a three-year program providing outstanding laboratory research experiences in NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP), access to NIH’s extensive resources, mentorship, career development activities and networking. The program places special emphasis on training fellows in basic biomedical research areas including cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, computational biology, immunology, neuroscience, technology development and bioinformatics.
The next receipt date for applications is October 3, 2017. Applicants can be graduate students considering postdoctoral research opportunities or postdoctoral fellows with no more than two years of postdoctoral research experience by the time of appointment to the PRAT program (late summer 2018). All applications require connecting with an investigator in the NIH IRP in advance of writing the application.
To attend the webinar, join the Skype meeting shortly before 12:00 p.m. EDT and enter the conference ID 8368072. You can also attend by phone by calling 301-480-4255. Slides will be posted on the PRAT website following the event.
We look forward to talking with you about the PRAT Program.
NIH Staff Participating in March 28 Webinar
Jessica Faupel-Badger, Director, NIGMS PRAT Program
Kenneth Gibbs, Program Director, NIGMS
Erika Ginsburg, NCI Authorized Organization Representative/Signing Official
Last year, we launched the NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture series. Open to everyone in the scientific community, the lectures are directed at undergraduate students to introduce them to cutting-edge science while inspiring them to pursue biomedical research careers. The series also highlights the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.
I’m excited to share that the 2017 lecture will be presented by Namandjé Bumpus, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine-division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Namandjé is an NIGMS-funded recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
Her lecture, “Drug Metabolism, Pharmacogenetics and the Quest to Personalize HIV Treatment and Prevention,” will take place on the NIH campus on Wednesday, April 5, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT. It will be videocast and archived on the NIH videocasting site.
Namandjé will describe her work examining the metabolism and distribution of antiretroviral drugs and their effects on cellular signaling pathways. She hopes that through a clearer understanding of these processes in cells and tissues, we can move toward predicting drug responses in a given person. After her talk, Namandjé will participate in a 30-minute question-and-answer session about her research and career path.
I hope you will encourage your students to watch the lecture and send in their questions for Namandjé. They can email them or tweet them using #ecilecture by March 29. They can also check out the inaugural lecture by Blake Wiedenheft, Ph.D., on “Bacteria, Their Viruses, and How They Taught Us to Perform Genome Surgery.”
I’m pleased to announce that NIGMS is the new home for the Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA). These awards, which were transferred from NIH’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, support research and educational activities that complement other workforce diversity and training programs within NIH mission areas. The change will allow the SEPA program to be better integrated with other NIGMS capacity-building and research training programs and will increase opportunities for synergies between them.
The SEPA program promotes partnerships between biomedical and clinical researchers and pre-kindergarten to grade 12 teachers and schools, museums and science centers, and other educational organizations. In addition, the program provides students from underserved communities with opportunities to learn about research careers; supplies teachers with professional development in science content and teaching skills; and improves community health and science literacy through its science centers and museum exhibits.
SEPA will be housed in our Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB), which supports research, research training, faculty development and research infrastructure improvements in states that historically have not received significant levels of research funding from NIH. It also supports faculty research development at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups.
We do not plan to alter the mission or goals of SEPA as a result of the transfer, and the program will continue to be administered by Tony Beck, who has served as its program director since 2001.
In addition to the currently active funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for national cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) centers, NIH has issued an FOA for research education program grants for cryo-EM curriculum development. Both FOAs are part of a new NIH/Office of Strategic Coordination Common Fund program being led by NIGMS and the National Eye Institute (NEI).
The research education grants will support investigator-driven development and dissemination of online educational materials, such as video-based tutorials, novel self-paced learning approaches and computer-based educational tools, to instruct biomedical researchers in the application of cryo-EM techniques, theory and analysis. Techniques include cryo-EM single particle analysis and cryo-electron tomography. Applications are due by July 25, 2017, with optional letters of intent due one month earlier.
If you have questions about the research education grants announcement, please email NEI’s Houmam Araj or call him at 301-451-2020. Please also help us get the word out by letting your community know of this opportunity.
NIGMS is committed to ensuring that taxpayers get the best possible returns on their investments in fundamental biomedical research. As part of an NIH-wide commitment to enhancing stewardship, we regularly monitor trends in the Institute’s funding portfolio.
One of the most commonly cited metrics when discussing grants is success rate, calculated as the number of applications funded divided by the number of applications reviewed. As shown in Figure 1, the success rate for NIGMS research project grants (RPGs) was 29.6% in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the same as it was in FY 2015. Although we funded a record number of competing RPGs in FY 2016, we also received more applications than in FY 2015, leading to a level success rate. The first applications and grants for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) (R35) program are included in the FY 2016 RPG counts. The increase in RPG applications in FY 2016 has reversed the downward trend noted in last year’s analysis.
View larger image Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Number of Funded Competing RPGs and Success Rates for RPGs, Fiscal Years 2005-2016. NIGMS RPG applications (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) increased from FY 2015-2016. NIGMS-funded RPGs (green squares, solid line; left axis) also increased from FY 2015-2016. Consequently, the NIGMS RPG success rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) remained unchanged from FY 2015. The dip in success rate in FY 2013 was due in part to the budget sequester.
An alternative measure of the performance of our funding strategies and the health of our portfolio is the “cumulative investigator rate,” which indicates the proportion of investigators actively seeking funding who had at least one NIGMS grant in a given fiscal year. Figure 2 shows the number of investigators seeking NIGMS support increased by 40% between FY 2004-2014, but the number of NIGMS-funded principal investigators (PIs) remained relatively unchanged over that same period. As a result, the cumulative investigator rate steadily decreased. More recently, the cumulative investigator rate has increased slightly, as the number of applicants seeking support in FY 2013-2016 has stabilized and the number of PIs receiving support during this same period has grown by 10%.
View larger image Figure 2. Number of NIGMS R01 Applicants, Number of Awardees and Cumulative Investigator Rates, Fiscal Years 2004-2016. The number of NIGMS R01 and R35 applicants (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) increased steadily from FY 2004-2014 but has stabilized more recently. The NIGMS R01 and R35 awardee counts (green squares, solid line; left axis) remained relatively stable from FY 2004-2014 and have increased somewhat over the past two years. Consequently, the NIGMS cumulative investigator rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) declined from FY 2004-2014 but has begun to increase since then.
As noted above, changes in the numbers of both competing applications and awards influence our success rate. The number of competing applications submitted is primarily driven by the research community, while the number of funded competing grants is affected by our funding policies, budget and existing commitments to active grants. As stated in our 2015 strategic plan, we have been making efforts to bolster support for investigator-initiated research through careful consideration of our portfolio and funding policies.
We’ve mentioned in previous funding trends posts that NIGMS does not use a strict percentile cutoff (“payline”) to make funding decisions. Instead, we take a variety of factors into account, including peer review scores, summary statements and reviews, the relevance of the research area to the Institute’s mission, overall portfolio diversity and an applicant’s other research support. The funding curves in Figure 3 show a significant number of applications each year are in the “fundable” range. In FY 2016, for example, NIGMS funded approximately 50% of applications that scored at the 24th percentile. This marks a drop from the 26th percentile in FY 2015, but it is higher than in any of the previous three years. Figure 4 displays the substantial percentile range of funded NIGMS competing R01s. It does not reflect data from the MIRA program, which is still in its early phases. NIGMS has been carefully monitoring the MIRA program and communicating its findings in separate Feedback Loop posts.
View larger image Figure 3. Percentage of Applications Funded Within Each Percentile for NIGMS Competing R01 Applications, Fiscal Years 2012-2016. The percentile at which 50% of the applications were funded in FY 2016 (solid green line) is near the 24th percentile, as compared with the 26th percentile in FY 2015 (long-dashed blue line) and the 22nd percentile in FY 2014 (medium-dashed yellow line). FY 2016 had a lower proportion of funded applications below the 10th percentile.
View larger image Figure 4. Funding Distribution of NIGMS Competing R01 Applications by Percentile, Fiscal Year 2016. Funded grants (solid green bars) generally follow the funding curve pattern demonstrated in Figure 3, with unfunded applications (dashed black-and-white bars) constituting the remainder of the overall uniform distribution of application percentiles.
NIGMS is currently operating under a continuing resolution through April 28, meaning that the Institute’s budget is at a level similar to what it was in FY 2016. If the budget is flat for the remainder of FY 2017, we do not anticipate being able to maintain a success rate for RPGs as high as it has been over the past two years. However, as mentioned in last year’s funding trends post, NIGMS pursued a strategy in FY 2016 that included funding a balance of long-term and short-term awards. Because the funds from these short-term awards became available again this year, NIGMS should be able to support more competing grants in FY 2017 than would have been possible had we not implemented this funding strategy in FY 2016.
Moving forward, we will continue to use every available analytical tool to ensure that we maximize returns on the taxpayers’ investments by supporting a vibrant and diverse portfolio of outstanding fundamental biomedical research.
At the recent NIGMS Advisory Council meeting, the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity requested, and received, approval to write a new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement (FOA), specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic sciences and designed to help catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. The goal is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to education and mentoring that will more effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical researchers, and will allow graduate education to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the biomedical research enterprise. Taking into account the feedback we have received from various stakeholders over the past year, the new FOA will:
- Emphasize the development of a diverse pool of exceptionally well-trained scientists;
- Focus on skills development, rigor and reproducibility, inclusive and supportive training environments, and responsible conduct;
- Address conflicts in the incentive structure of the research enterprise that adversely impact biomedical graduate education;
- Encourage the use and dissemination of evidence-based, innovative educational and mentoring practices;
- Emphasize improvements in career preparation (broadly defined), and dissemination of career outcomes on publicly available sites.
The intention is not to layer additional activities onto existing structures. Instead, this funding announcement is designed to allow for a creative reinvention of biomedical graduate education that preserves the best elements, while enhancing the focus on the development of research and professional skills by trainees.
We expect to issue the new T32 FOA this fall and to receive the first applications in May 2018. The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants, except for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. We plan in the future to develop a parallel FOA that is specific for the goals of the MSTP.
UPDATE: The slides from the RISE Program Applicants webinar have been posted.
If you’re preparing an institutional RISE grant application, you might have questions about the funding opportunity announcement and data tables required for the upcoming May 25 receipt date. We’ll be available to discuss these topics during a webinar on Thursday, April 6, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EDT. You may send questions before the webinar or post them in the chat box during the event.
To access the webinar, visit the WebEx Meeting page and enter meeting number 624 498 694 and the password “RISE2017.” If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-877-668-4493 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the meeting number above.
We look forward to talking to you about the RISE program.
NIGMS Staff Participating in April 6 Webinar
Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:
Anissa Brown, Program Director
Luis Cubano, Program Director
Shiva Singh, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch Chief
Office of Scientific Review:
Rebecca Johnson, Scientific Review Officer
Division of Extramural Activities:
Susan South, Grants Management Specialist
NIGMS has a longstanding interest in understanding the structure and dynamics of the biomedical research enterprise including its workforce and institutions. At the recent NIGMS Advisory Council meeting, we presented and received approval for a joint program between NIGMS and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on the Science of Science and Innovation Policy (SciSIP) . The goal of the program is to develop a portfolio of high quality research to provide scientific analysis of important aspects of the biomedical research landscape.
Among the areas of NIGMS’ interest is research that will:
- Lead to a better understanding of the existing biomedical research enterprise.
- Analyze the efficiencies and inefficiencies in the enterprise with the goal of providing insights into how it can be improved.
- Study the underlying dynamics of the workforce and its trainees, examining strategies for retaining and advancing highly skilled independent investigators and for enhancing the diversity of the scientific workforce.
The SciSIP program, which is managed by NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, is a leader in supporting research in this field. It funds research designed to advance the scientific basis of science and innovation policy, including developing models, analytical tools, data and metrics that can be applied in the science policy decision making process and concern the use and allocation of scarce scientific resources.
The two agencies have compatible and complementary programmatic goals, with NIGMS focusing on the biomedical research enterprise and NSF focusing on general science, technology, engineering and math. The coordinated management and funding of a joint research program in this field would have a positive, synergistic effect on the scope of research and can leverage the investments of both agencies.
We are modeling the program on our collaborations with NSF in other scientific fields that have similarly compatible goals between the two agencies. These include the joint programs for mathematical biology and the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. As with those programs, NSF will issue a solicitation in the coming months that will be highlighted in the NIH Guide. Applications will be due in October 2017. Following a jointly-conducted peer review of these applications, meritorious proposals may be recommended for funding by either NSF or NIGMS.
UPDATE: The slides from the MARC U-STAR program applicants webinar have been posted.
If you’re preparing an institutional MARC U-STAR grant application, you might have questions about the funding opportunity announcement and data tables required for the upcoming May 25 receipt date. We’ll be available to discuss these topics during a webinar on Wednesday, March 22, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. EDT. You may send questions to me before the webinar or post them in the chat box during the event.
To access the webinar, visit the WebEx Meeting page and enter meeting number 624 460 843 and the password “NIGMS.” If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-877-668-4493 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the meeting number above.
We look forward to talking to you about the MARC U-STAR program.
NIGMS Staff Participating in March 22 Webinar
Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:
Sailaja Koduri, Program Director
Luis Cubano, Program Director
Shiva Singh, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch Chief
Office of Scientific Review:
Rebecca Johnson, Scientific Review Officer
Division of Extramural Activities:
Lori Burge, Grants Management Officer
As we’ve pointed out, it’s important to acknowledge your NIH funding in all your publications, including research articles, press releases and other documents about NIH-supported research. Your Notice of Award includes information about such acknowledgements (also see Requirements for Acknowledging NIH-Supported Research and Attribution of NIH/NIGMS Support).
If you have more than one NIGMS or NIH award, you should only cite the grant(s) that supported the research described in the publication. The specific aims should be the determining factor. This would apply even in cases where one of the authors on the article (e.g., a technician) works on multiple projects and is paid through multiple grants, or when equipment used in the reported work was purchased on a different grant.
Acknowledging multiple awards in a publication may be taken as an indicator of scientific overlap among the cited projects. This becomes important when your next application is being considered by reviewers, NIGMS Advisory Council members and NIGMS staff. For example, when considering support of research in well-funded laboratories, our Advisory Council expects the Institute to support projects only if they are highly promising and distinct from other funded work in the laboratory.
So, please take a moment to make sure that you are citing your grants accurately in your publications and avoid pitfalls when you send in your next application.
Catherine D. Lewis, director of the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics (CBB), retired in January after more than 30 years of service at the NIH. Throughout her career, Cathy was widely recognized for her scientific foresight and leadership, including the early recognition of important emerging research opportunities in molecular biology, biophysics and microscopy. Her tireless work behind the scenes ensured that these transformational new research approaches were seamlessly integrated into the NIH portfolio and able to grow rapidly.
Cathy earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in biochemistry from Princeton University and joined NIH in 1983 as a staff fellow at NIDDK in the lab of Gary Felsenfeld, where she studied chromatin structure and the regulation of beta-globin gene expression during development.
Her career at NIGMS started in 1989, when Cathy moved to the Institute as a program director in the Genetics Division—led at the time by Judith Greenberg. She managed grants on cell nuclear structure and function and was instrumental in the development of programs focused on epigenetic regulation. Eight years later, Cathy became CBB’s Biophysics Branch chief. In that role, she at one point managed nearly 400 grants, some of which led to breakthroughs such as the structure of the ribosome. She also initiated NIGMS programs focused on new single-molecule methods and nanotechnology. In 2006, Cathy took over as director of CBB. During this period, she oversaw changes in the direction of the NIGMS Protein Structure Initiative, promoted advances in high-resolution optical microscopy and cellular imaging, and led efforts to support atomic resolution cryo-electron microscopy, including a new Common Fund initiative.
During her tenure at NIH, Cathy received two NIH Director’s Awards, for her work on trans-NIH initiatives and her leadership on science education in elementary schools.
Cathy’s door was always open to all, and her advice was constantly sought by colleagues, not only in her own division, but widely across NIGMS and NIH.
Most importantly, Cathy maintained warm professional and personal relationships with those around her, while getting things done and influencing others. “Leading a division that worked well and where people respected each other and got along is something that I’m happy to have been involved in,” she says.
Working in the CBB division was fun, because she helped make it so. She will be missed.
UPDATE: We thank the community for its initial feedback as we continue to develop plans for this program, which will support research within the NIGMS mission (including a limited number of clinical areas). The program will offer comparable levels of support as the program project (P01) mechanism, but its structure will be quite different. In addition to the capacity building and AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers, we will continue to support the Biomedical Technology Research Resource centers (P41), Mature Synchrotron Resources (P30), and select coordinating or resource centers in areas of high strategic need.January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 2:14:10.
At its January 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for a new program to support collaborative, team-based science. This initiative is the result of evaluations of our previous programs, recent research on the science of team science , and community input.
Many research questions in biomedical science can be pursued by single investigators and their close collaborators through single- or multi-principal investigator R01 grants. However, complex research questions may require the coordinated efforts of several research laboratories and closer collaborations among researchers with diverse areas of expertise. NIGMS recognizes the importance and benefits of supporting collaborative research teams when these are necessary to achieve important scientific breakthroughs or new understanding of phenomena.
NIGMS’ new Collaborative Program Grant is designed to support highly integrated, multidisciplinary research teams of three to six investigators who will address complex research questions, train and mentor new scientists, and impact scientific problems that would benefit from coordinated research support. The key application requirements are a single, integrated research program without subprojects and a multiple-principal investigator management plan. We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement by the summer and, beginning in 2018, we will make four to six awards per year with annual direct costs ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million. We plan to phase out our use of the P01 and most of our other center mechanisms. We will continue to support capacity building centers, such as those of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, and to support the AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers.
Each year, NIH nominates outstanding young scientists for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists beginning their independent research careers. The scientists are selected for their innovative research record, potential to continue on this productive route and community service activities. Among this year’s PECASE recipients (nominated in 2014) are two NIGMS grantees, Tufts University’s Aimee Shen (who started her career at the University of Vermont) and Montana State University’s Blake Wiedenheft (who was the inaugural NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecturer). Both scientists launched their labs with support from our Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions in states with historically low levels of NIH funding.
Below, they answer questions about their research and community service efforts, offer advice to other early career scientists, and share their experiences with the IDeA program.
What is the focus of your research?
Blake Wiedenheft: Viruses that infect bacteria (i.e., bacteriophages) are the most abundant biological entities on earth. The selective pressures imposed by these pervasive predators have a profound impact on the composition and the behavior of microbial communities in every ecological setting. In my lab, we rely on a combination of techniques from bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry and structural biology to understand the mechanisms that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection.
Aimee Shen: My lab studies Clostridium difficile, the leading cause of healthcare-associated infection in the United States. C. difficile forms metabolically dormant cells known as spores that allow the microbe to survive exit from the gastrointestinal tract of a mammalian host. My research is directed at understanding how C. difficile spores form in order to transmit infection and how they germinate and transform into disease-causing cells to initiate infection.
What community service efforts do you engage in?
Wiedenheft: One of the main outreach activities of my lab is the annual Montana Wild Virus Hunt . The aim of this project is to engage high school students and their instructors in a three-day basic virology workshop at Montana State University. Like me, many of these students come from rural parts of the state, and for some this is their first opportunity to visit a college campus. We first tour the local wastewater treatment facility with expert speakers. We then collect wastewater samples, bring them to the lab and perform plaque assays, isolate viral clones, purify bacteriophages and visualize the bacteriophages using transmission electron microscopy. It’s too early to know how much of a lasting impact this experience leaves on the students, but the impact these students have on me is all that I need to keep teaching the Montana Wild Virus Hunt.
Shen: At the University of Vermont (where I started my career), I developed an “Off-the-Academic-Track” seminar series for graduate students and postdocs to meet scientists in non-academic careers. At Tufts University, I will be directing the Pathway to Ph.D. program, which aims to increase diversity in the biomedical sciences by providing a mentored research experience for University of Massachusetts Boston students interested in scientific careers. I am committed to promoting diversity in the biomedical sciences, since we need to provide better and more equal opportunities for individuals to enter STEM careers and since many studies have shown that diversity strengthens all institutions.
What advice do you have for young investigators?
Wiedenheft: Above everything, I recommend finding a topic that captivates your curiosity. Then, incorporate ideas and techniques from other disciplines, identify and communicate with scientists that you respect (i.e., mentors), striking a productive balance between healthy skepticism and blind optimism (i.e., know when to walk away), pursue your research with vigor, and never stop asking questions.
Shen: First off, study something you are passionate about. You want a topic that motivates you to go into lab everyday even when things are not working. Related to this, have faith in yourself. We all go through scientific valleys and peaks, but one of the distinguishing features of successful scientists is how they navigate through those tough valleys. The key is to have faith that if you keep working at a problem, i.e., if you keep thinking, reading, discussing with others, and iterating, you’ll eventually overcome the barrier. In the end, try to learn from all your experiences, whether they are failures or successes. These experiences will collectively make you a better scientist.
How has the IDeA program impacted your career?
Wiedenheft: The IDeA program helps me engage with the rural, minority and medically underserved communities in this state. Many of the students I’ve supported with help from the IDeA program have performed research, authored papers and won national awards, including Goldwater and Rhodes scholarships. The IDeA program has made a lasting impact on these students and has benefited my research program.
Shen: I was hired by the University of Vermont as an assistant professor through an IDeA Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant. This grant was instrumental to my success because it gave key funding for next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics services, which allowed us to conduct an RNA-Seq study that has served as the foundation for most of my lab’s research. This funding also allowed my lab to perform transmission electron microscopy analyses that have been essential to our work. The grant also created a supportive infrastructure for junior investigators (including faculty mentors who helped me with grant writing and lab management) and a collaborative environment for developing my research program.
Wiedenheft’s work for which he was nominated for the PECASE was funded in part by NIH under grant R01GM108888. His IDeA funding came from grant P20GM103500. You can read more about his research on the CRISPR-mediated immune systems of bacteria on NIGMS’ Biomedical Beat blog.
NIGMS and the National Eye Institute (NEI) are leading a new NIH Common Fund program: Transformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy. This initiative will establish national service centers to increase research capacity for molecular structure determination by high resolution cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). The centers will provide access to state-of-the-art equipment, technical support and cross-training for the production and analysis of high resolution cryo-EM data. An open application process will offer equal-opportunity access to researchers nationwide.
The NIH Common Fund recently issued a funding opportunity announcement for these national centers. The application deadline is June 30, 2017, with optional letters of intent due by May 30. For more information about the cryo-EM centers announcement, please email me. Please also help us get the word out by letting your community know of this opportunity.
UPDATE: The January 31 webinar has been posted.
A new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program will expand eligibility to include all grantees who have at least one NIGMS R01-equivalent award (R01, R37, DP2 or SC1) due for renewal in the current or next fiscal year. Investigators with two or more NIGMS grants are eligible if at least one of their grants is up for renewal during this time period. The deadline for the first round of applications is May 17, 2017, with the earliest award date of May 2018. There will be two receipt dates in 2018 and 2019: January 17 and May 17.
The advantages of a MIRA for NIGMS grantees are that awards are for five years, provide support for an investigator’s overall program of research within the NIGMS mission, and offer greater funding stability and research flexibility while reducing the administrative burden.
In transitioning from a pilot to an ongoing grant mechanism, we have made some minor changes to the MIRA program. For example, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will review MIRA applications from established investigators. For more details, please read the FOA and the frequently asked questions. We also have posted a simple process to determine 2017 eligibility. I strongly encourage those who intend to apply to discuss their plans with their NIGMS program director.
We’ll hold a webinar to discuss the FOA and answer questions about the program on Tuesday, January 31, from 2-3 p.m. EST. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.
For additional information, please email me, or call me at 301-594-3827—and watch the Feedback Loop for updates, including an anticipated MIRA FOA for early stage investigators.